Photo: fullycharedshow via YouTube
Among the many complaints registered by T. Boone Pickens, his most consistent has been the inability of the U.S. government to arrive at a cohesive energy policy.Given the general level of dysfunction now found in developed governments everywhere, one might be willing to cut Washington a break.
But over the past decade, Germany has shown that, at least when it comes to energy, stagnation need not be destiny.
In 2000, having never shaken the trauma of Chernobyl’s radioactive cloud toward it, the country decided it would permanently phase out nuclear power.
The same year, the country passed a Renewable Energy Sources Act that gave lucrative new subsidies for renewable energy providers in the form of a citizen consumption tax (officially, a feed-in tariff).
Photo: The Economist
Since then, according to The Economist, the country managed to increase its share of renewable energy by at least 10 per cent in just 10 years.On a recent Saturday in May, Germany achieved something remarkable: It met half of its energy needs through solar power, generating 22 gigawatts. The government’s target current is a consistent 35% by 2020. Germany gets more electricity from renewable sources than any other big country.
By many accounts, the plan has worked too. Der Spiegel recently reported that the country’s existing electricity grid is struggling to handle all the new inputs coming from renewable sources:
“The head logistician at BLG Windenergy Logistics is already predicting a ‘disruption next summer.’ Owing to delays in laying the power cables connecting wind farms to the mainland, his company has had no new orders for offshore transports since November 17. Without this connection to the national grid, no one wants to risk investing in new wind farms. ‘We worked flat out for a year,” Wellbrock says, “and now we risk grinding to a complete stop.’ ”
And although the Fukushima disaster prompted Angela Merkel to instantly shutter eight of the country’s 17 reactors, carbon dioxide emissions have increased 25 million tons annually in Europe, according to Laszlo Varro of the International Energy Agency, a European intergovernmental organisation.
Still, momentum appears to be in the country’s favour.
The 35 per cent target “is not starry eyed, that is based on real experience of our renewable roll-out,” the Guardian recently quoted Sascha Müller-Kraenner, executive director of the Nature Conservancy in Europe. Dagmar Dehmer, environment correspondent at the daily newspaper Berliner Tagespeigel told the British journal, “We always trust our engineers.”
Indeed, once-ailing industrial shipyards have found some success in converting their ports into wind farms.
Feed-in tariffs for renewable energy would be unlikely to go far in the U.S, especially given its current shale energy boom.
But the experience of Germany shows that if a government wanted to set its mind on fixing energy, there’s nothing to stop it.